Harwich Lifeboat Station

History of the RNLI

In 1789 a Newcastle ship Adventurer was wrecked near the mouth of the River Tyne. Local people watched helplessly from the shore as all the crew drowned. Members of a club in South Shields called 'Gentlemen of Lawe House' offered a prize of two guineas for the best lifeboat design.

It was won by William Wouldhave, a singing master from South Shields. Based on this design the first purpose built lifeboat was constructed by Henry Greathead. Named the Original she was launched in January 1790 and was in service for over 40 years saving hundreds of lives.

On the 4th March 1824 Sir William Hillary, who was a crew member of the Douglas, Isle of Man Lifeboat recognised the need for a national organisation and called a meeting.

The meeting was in the City of London Tavern and was presided over by Dr Manners Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was resolved to form the organisation which today is known as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Flag Days

The worst lifeboat disaster in the history of the RNLI occurred on 9th December 1886. The German barque The Mexico struck a sandbank in rough seas. In answer to the distress call 3 lifeboats launched to assist. The Southport lifeboat reached The Mexico first but in the rescue was swamped by a breaking sea and 13 lifeboatmen lost their lives.

The St. Annes Lifeboat had launched but thereafter nothing was seen or heard from her. All the crew had perished. The Lytham lifeboat reached The Mexico and plucked 12 men from the stricken ship and returned them safely ashore. That night 27 lifeboatmen had died at sea. A fund was set up immediately for the families of those lifeboatmen lost. Contributions from Queen Victoria, the German Emperor and the Port of Hamburg assisted the fund to raise £50,000.

Sir Charles Macara, a Lancashire businessman was determined that the RNLI should be supported on a more regular basis rather than a disaster appeal. He became the driving force behind 'Lifeboat Saturday' in Manchester. This was first held in 1891 with 30,000 people turning up and £5,500 was collected. Lifeboat days have continued since then with lifeboat stickers being introduced in 1915.

The bravery of the 27 Lifeboatmen lost in The Mexico disaster and the vision of Sir Charles Macara has not been in vain.